A Year’s Reflection
I was so high on life I almost couldn’t breathe. Grinning like a maniac, I stomped through mud puddles as big as I was and tried to ignore my pack weight. All of a sudden, I could see it – the plaque I’d heard so much about, seen countless photos of:
Hello, Springer Mountain and the start of the Trail! I giggled, throwing my hands up and looking across the mountains.
I finished my six months with an email to my boss from Greece after four other countries, telling him I was ready enough to come back to work. I started hiking knowing that the AT had plans for me, was going to teach me a lot – and it did. Life doesn’t go according to plan, and there is simple beauty in that. I didn’t get very far on the Trail last year – though that depends a bit on who you ask. I’ll finish it someday.
As Ent, I met fun-loving fellow hikers, new friends, Trail Angels, and the part of me that can sleep through the night alone in a tent, throw a mean foodbag line, and wake up to snow on the ground with laughter (even though we went to Town that day). ACO became my partner in crime for awhile, until she hitched a ride out. We healed most of our homesickness and what-did-we-get-ourselves-into together, finding a sunny day to keep going. The hiking community is extraordinary: everyone’s got your back, and you have theirs. Hitch a ride, goof off in town, stand drooling in a grocery store at the endless food you can’t fit in your pack. Recognize what people look like after a shower. On what became my last full day on the Trail, I ran, laughing, around camp to get every single inch of the footpath under my belt – then watched as five others followed suit. I hiked two 12-milers back to back, and groaned when my body protested. I hiked through 2 and a half solid days of rain, nursed hot spots, and managed to burn oatmeal.
And I miss it every day. This surprises non-Trail people. After all, I left it. It was rainy, and cold, and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – true. But I loved it, and leaving it was just as hard. Mountain air is freeing. Campfires are like blankets to tuck you in at night. There is a wild sort of joy in carrying everything you need on your back. And fresh spring water? Nothing can compare.
Once I got back, I had to go again. I bounced around the US for awhile, and then embarked on a new journey: Southeast Asia. I visited my best friend in Hong Kong, joined Habitat for Humanity in Sri Lanka, toured Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and spent a couple random nights in Thailand before flying home via Hawaii. Soon after that, my mom and I went to Greece to fulfill a 10-year dream. All of them hold special memories to me.
But the Trail – the Trail is another home. I miss it most when I’m not really paying attention, and all of a sudden it hits me: a fresh breeze, walking in my hiking boots, dreaming of times when I wouldn’t have to be afraid of getting hit by cars on a regular basis.
I feel happier than when I started a year ago. I’m more content. So for all you hikers setting off this year, cherish it. You may not finish, and that’s okay. Push yourself and give it your all, though: chances like this are rare.
PS – in honor of my Trail-iversary, I dyed my hair again, more purplish this time:
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